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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Five More Ottoman Things

Discover the Ottomans

Five Things of Legend Among the Ruins
Also see "Things of Splendour"

Here are some facts about things to do with Ottoman Empire and its last greatest export, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. For example, did you know...

  • ...that although it is difficult to summarise over six hundred years of history left as legacy by the Ottomans and the mighty Turkish Empire to the average person in the West, most water down the Ottomans to its final century of diseased existence? It would surprise many to learn that one of the greatest imperial powers in history, which bridges ancient and modern histories, is well documented as being far less bloodier in comparison to empires raised by ancients such as Alexander the Great or the more recent House of Habsburg or British Empire, and over time became a common refuge for European and Russian Jews fleeing from pogroms. However, it is difficult to blame the West for turning a blind eye, as this legend of tolerance forged by the Ottomans isn't even taught in Turkish schools in any great depth. [The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (New Approaches to European History) by Daniel Goffman]

  • ...that at the conclusion of a bloody war in 1923 between Greece and newly forming Turkey from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, the two nations agreed to a "population exchange" that sent over a million Turkish Orthodox Christians to Greece and nearly half a million Greek Muslims to Turkey? Turkish-speaking Christians were uprooted and shipped overseas to assume an unfamiliar but supposedly truer Greek nationality, and Greek-speaking Muslims reluctantly made their way to take over the Christians' vacated Turkish places. The result of this political wrangling between the two countries, intent on ridding themselves of potentially troublesome minorities and consolidating a shaky sense of national unity, were the traumatic exoduses and revisits of the cosmopolitan Ottoman communities — where Christians and Muslims had coexisted for centuries — which were torn apart by the expulsions. Ironically, this cultural upheaval instead of causing the intended "purification of nations", caused an en mass creative and cultural exchange of food, music and folk legends, indirectly forging unacknowledged links between modern Greek and Turkish cultures to render them as similar as they were in Ottoman times. [Twice a Stranger, by Bruce Clark]

  • ...that the Ottoman Empire was effectively ended not by foreign powers but by an Ottoman soldier? From the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire's sultanate in 1300 A.D. under the almost legendary Osman I, through to the apogee of their civilisation in the sixteenth century under Suleiman the Magnificent, whose forces threatened the gates of Vienna, its might gradually diminished thereafter until the last sultan was sent into exile in 1923 by a man of legend that had snatched victory at Gallipoli from foreign forces and came to be known as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Taking the role cast by destiny in the ultimate defeat of the Ottomans and the great tragedy that would reshape the whole region forever, in which Muslims and Christians struggled to survive, the last great Ottoman soldier would become a statesman and create a country from the ruins of his ancestors' empire. [Ataturk: The Rebirth of a Nation by Lord Patrick Balfour Kinross]

  • ...that Atatürk's Republic played a humane role in the German Holocaust? When in 1933, events in their native Germanic lands caught Jews at a crossroads as targets in the cross fires of history, German-Jewish professors were invited to come to Turkey by Atatürk's government and be saved from certain displacement and death. Providing an illustration of the vision and genius of Atatürk in making deft use of every opportunity to improve his nation after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, about 150 of them came during 1933-1938. Cited as an important aspect of the Holocaust by writers in this field, these German émigrés, whose lives were saved while taking refuge in Turkey after 1933, contributed to the modernization of its higher education, and to the implementation of research activities and social reforms. Some stayed for a few years, many stayed for 10 years or more. Some stayed until retirement. Legend has it that Einstein was one month away himself from coming to Turkey within these group of scholars, when he received an offer from Princeton. [Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Ataturk's Vision by by Arnold Reisman]

  • ...of the legend of Atatürk's "walking villa" situated in his favourite town of Yalova, Turkey? Known for his love of nature, one day in 1929, while travelling in his yacht along the coast of Sea of Marmara near Yalova, Mustafa Kemal spots a tall, lone plane tree (chinar) and goes to visit the site. He walks around the tree and orders a villa to be built where he can come to relax. The villa is subsequently built in 45 days and in 1930, a gardener informs Atatürk that as one of the branches extends towards the villa, almost touching and threatening the roof, the offending limb of the chinar tree would have to be cut in order to protect the villa. Atatürk tells the gardener that the branch of the tree could not be replaced by a villa and orders the villa to be moved instead. This comment surprises everyone, since nothing like that had ever been done before. Atatürk tells the group to bring tram trucks from Istanbul, lift the villa, put it on the rail road tracks and then move it, rather tham harm the tree that had been there first. That is exactly what they did and moved the villa 4 meters 80 centimetres after bringing architects, engineers and technicians from Istanbul, with the responsibility for moving the villa given to the Municipality of Istanbul. The earth around the villa was dug out carefully down to the level of the foundation and tracks were laid under the villa. First the terrace section, than the main building of the villa was moved, which took three days. The tree stands to this day, as, too, does the story as a monument to Atatürk's love of the environment. This legend of moving a house rather than damaging a tree makes for good reading when one considers the state of the environment today. ["Ataturk’s Walking Villa in Yalova, Turkey", by Ercan Özdemir for, USA, 7 January 2006]
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